Head to Head: Plastic Straws

Let Me Keep My Plastic Straw

By: Alexa Szafranski

You go to Starbucks and order a drink. You finally get your drink after “hours” of waiting, and you put a straw in and begin to drink. Around point five seconds later, you realize you need another straw because of those flimsy paper straws that disintegrate, making your drink taste awful. Unfortunately, that has become my life in Miami.

Plastic straws are perceived as harmful to the environment, but at least there’s benefit from them. Paper straws are slightly less harmful, but everyone who uses them is miserable. The paper straw is not the perfect solution that many think it is.

After using a paper straw you will probably throw it in the garbage. From there it ends up most likely in a landfill, especially in cities where you rarely see a compost bin. Landfills are designed to undermine composting efforts, so when you throw your paper straw out, it will probably never biodegrade and end up sitting in a trash heap. Even though these straws are not biodegradable in landfills, it is assumed that they can be recycled. Paper products often are recyclable, but a majority of recycling facilities will not accept any food-contaminated paper products. Paper absorbs the liquid in drinks, therefore it would not be accepted.

Now let’s talk about the amount of energy it takes to make the little devil called the paper straw. One assumes that because this straw is “better for the environment” that it is less resource-intensive to manufacture. However, this is the opposite of reality. Making a paper bag, for example, requires four times as much energy as manufacturing a plastic one. The more greenhouse gases that are emitted for these “better” straws, the worse for the planet. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere which raises global temperatures. So pick your side environmentalists, stopping climate change or saving the turtles?

The modern eco-friendly movement has given negative connotations to anyone who doesn’t agree with their standings. Plastic straws are considered bad, but are the paper straws any better? I am not telling you to stop using your paper straws, but I would really appreciate if you could back off whenever I enjoy my plastic one.

Plastic Straws Must Go

By: Yosef Fruhman (11th Grade)

While not using plastic straws won’t save the planet single-handedly, they are generally an unnecessary source of waste. For the vast majority of Americans, straws are a convenience and not a necessity. Although some disabled individuals are better able to drink with straws, most plastic straw usage in America comes from people who don’t actually need them to drink. Therefore, any argument for plastic straws must recognize that the waste and pollution caused by their existence is almost totally avoidable. The average person’s quality of life would not be changed at all if they stopped drinking with straws as a whole. For example, would you stop drinking coffee or smoothies if you didn’t have straws? Would you not go to restaurants? For most people, the answer is obviously no, and for those who say yes, there are much better options than plastic.

For the people who either need straws to drink or who truly can’t live without them, there are environmentally-friendly alternatives, which generally fall into two categories: reusable and recyclable.

The best alternatives are those that are convenient, generate minimal waste, and biodegrade. Paper straws have given biodegradable materials an unfair reputation as inherently worse than plastic. While yes, paper straws do become soggy and generally fail in every regard, there are significantly better alternatives that do everything that plastic can, and more. For example, bamboo straws are a sturdy, reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable alternative to plastic that are grown organically in developing countries.

An even better alternative can match plastic straws in nearly every way: wheat straws. They are made of wheat stalks, which would otherwise be burned, serving no purpose. Instead, they are made into very cheap, single use straws that can be composted and actually give nutrients to plants.

While some plastic purists may try to tell you that plastic straws are a necessary evil, they are just making excuses for bad practices. Straws are useless to most people, and sustainable alternatives exist for those who need them. Instead of equating eco-friendly with ineffective, look at the options and make an educated decision to help the planet, support farmers in growing economies, and save yourself some money in the process.

Subscribe!